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Maisy, Lambs and Black Vultures

This week on the farm

I hate black vultures

We had a first this week….a newborn lamb was killed by a wake of around 10 black vultures…not to be confused with the shy

red-headed turkey vulture (I’ve got more about vultures on my website).

We’ve been raising lambs for almost 20 years with very few predation issues, so few in fact that I can recall them all. Our solution after our first lamb loss was to research guardian animals.

A guardian dog was out right from the start, I was all for it but my husband knows me way too well. He knew a guardian dog would be a house dog within a month no matter how much I promised it would be patrolling the perimeter every night. We looked into llamas, but I’ve got way too much llama baggage from working at the zoo. That left a donkey. It wasn’t too long after we decided that the stars aligned; we were looking for a donkey right when someone was looking to unload one.

As with many of our beasts our donkey has a story. We got Maisy as a result of a phone call from my dairy ag agent (I’ve mentioned Marti before). As is usual with Marti the call started with “you can always say no”. Whenever I hear this particular phrase from this particular friend I have this odd mixture of feelings, it’s like when a roller coaster car has started to move, you’re torn between regretting making the decision to climb in but a little excited to see what’s going to happen next. The biggest difference is that the roller coaster ride is over in a few minutes.

This time she was looking for a home for her dentist’s donkey. Apparently, the dentist’s wife had put her foot down and demanded the donkey find a new home. I was reassured that the wife’s assertion that the beast didn’t like her was all her fault and not anything to do with the equine’s alleged possessiveness.

We were smitten the second she got off the trailer. Maisy was and is wonderful, we love her to bits but she can be a little single minded sometimes. If you’ve ever visited the farm you have probably been accosted by Maisy. If you gave good ear scratches you were then discretely separated from the other visitors (she doesn’t like to share….some call that being possessive but I call it focus) and followed until you left the pasture. She plays favorites.

Maisy took to the sheep and us immediately. She is calm, sweet, mellow and fun (this is why I rarely say no to Marti). She hardly ever gets upset and is always up for hugs and ear scratches. So imagine our surprise when our sweet donkey lost her mind when the first lambs arrived. Apparently, donkeys have this internal drive to kill all things small unless they are lambs. This kill instinct turns into a sense of responsibility so extreme that even the lamb’s mother is a potential danger that the lambs must be protected from. After the initial shock we separated donkey and lambs for a couple of days allowing Maisy to come to her senses. It seemed to work and all was well for the rest of the lambing.

After that first year she was less possessive, we could trust her to hang around with the newborns and their mothers making sure they all stay together for the first day. After that she hangs out with the flock until the lambs were old enough and fast enough to take care of themselves. She then goes back to her equine friends, Ariana, Buck and Felix. She is a wonderful guardian of and mascot for the farm.

Four years ago, we made the decision to lamb a little earlier so we could have product ready for the holidays. It was about this time I learned of the black vulture’s taste for newborns……I was a little freaked out. This new vulture knowledge coupled with the need for more substantial shelter in case of bad weather meant lambing had to be moved from the Maisy protected pasture to George’s area and barn. We had never used George as a guardian up to this point but he has this extreme hatred for vultures, I’m serious, he will chase them relentlessly and enthusiastically whenever they come close. My mind was at ease.

This year we’re late lambing due to COVID. I know I use COVID as a scapegoat often but this time it’s accurate😊 George is watching over the youngest turkeys right now, so we decided to let the ewes lamb in the pasture with Maisy. Four years away from lambs has broken Maisy. She was beside herself on Friday when our first ewe gave birth. The poor mother just wanted to take care of her babies but in Maisy’s addled mind she was out to kill them. I think it must be the smell of blood. There’s always some during births. We stepped in, separating mother and offspring from our overzealous donkey.

Maisy was not happy. She almost ran over our kid number 2 who was valiantly trying to slow her down with a lead rope, stepped on kid number 3 and charged at Scott. I thought she was going to climb the fence to get to the wooly trio. After 2 nights and days of her loud protests (I know she was upset but her hee-haw is so cute) she finally calmed down and went back to hanging with the horses.

Scott and I had just made the decision to put Maisy back in with the sheep when I saw the wake of vultures ripping apart something small and white. We were experiencing our first vulture attack. Our sheep normally give birth at night or first thing in the morning but one had decided to give birth in the middle of the afternoon. It’s possible the lamb was stillborn and the vultures were just really on the ball but given what I’ve read from places where they’ve become a problem I have my doubts that this is what transpired (they’re awfully bold in some parts of the country, they even kill young calves). Ewes have a hard time defending themselves or their lambs while they are giving birth (as anyone who has given birth can agree) so it’s usually the first of twins that gets attacked. I removed the carcass, opened up the gate so Maisy could rejoin the flock and hoped for the best. FYI…the twin of this lamb and her mother are doing very well.

I’m happy to report that four of our ewes have now lambed without incident, that Maisy’s baby fever has subsided and that she is now calmly watching over her new lambs appropriately.

We will probably lamb this time of year moving forward, the grass is still lush and the weather pleasant. Hopefully Maisy will be a little calmer next lambing season. It’s really hard to be upset with her, she just takes her work very seriously, she’s very focused.


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